Lydia Nsiah’s to forget bathes the viewer in deteriorated images. Behind color fades, blemishes, and instances of almost no image whatsoever, a carousel of car window views can be discerned. This is the theater of the open road, told with expired film stock gifted to Nsiah by a colleague at the Vienna Film Museum. It’s a symphony of light’s inconsistent ability to permeate celluloid. The film screened as part of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam’s Paradocs program, which probes the boundary between traditional documentary and experimentation. It’s a space where filmmaking’s structural components are toyed with for exploration.
Nsiah is one of several directors in the strand experimenting with cinema’s ontological relationship to light. Umbra by Florian Fischer and Johannes Krell experiments with lenseless and underwater filming, and showcases several natural phenomena produced by the Sun, creating a compelling dance of patterns. Michiel van Bakel’s short Hours of Glass uses an astrophotography-enabled camera to present time lapses of space observatories. The absence of an infrared filter gives the landscapes an alien quality, with tree leaves shifting to pink. The images are accompanied by a soundscape of background radiation turned audible. It’s a homage to the work carried out in such spaces.
Other filmmakers investigate cinema’s oppositional ability and inability to show certain things. Phone calls between director Yaser Kassab and his father fill the audible register of I Have Seen Nothing, I Have Seen All. Shots captured by Kassab in a snow-covered European location drastically differ from the dusty, sun-soaked, and shrapnel-ridden environments his father films through a car window in Aleppo. As those images negate each other and forge a feeling of diasporic longing, the staticky phone calls — about moving Kassab’s brother’s body — act as a fragile glue.
Daniela Delgado Viteri’s Shortcuts gleans the alternate meaning behind established images through five vignettes in Peru and Ecuador. In one, people use a political rally as a ruse for having a party. In another, a tour guide plays up to Western tourists’ expectations in order to make money. The way that stories can shift to individual subjectivities also forms the basis of Prantik Basu’s Palace of Colors, wherein a vivid yellow limestone quarry on the border of Bengal and Jharkhand comes to life through the narration of Santhali folktales. Basu occasionally superimposes archival photographs over the landscape, with faces settling into the grooves of the limestone and acting like witnesses to the stories.
Frank Beauvais’s feature Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream explores a period of the director’s life when he had split up with a long-term partner and filled his downtime in the French countryside with a compulsive dive into over 400 movies. It infuses a nuanced selection of shots from a diverse range of films with diary-like narration. Shots of hands engaged in tasks are emphasized, while head-on representations of characters are avoided, conveying the monotony of Beauvais’s everyday life. With more sinister and poignant clips, he explores the anxieties around both the relationship’s end and the terrorist attacks happening around the world during the same period. For some, the film’s swift pace may feel difficult to follow, but anyone with any degree of a compulsive mind will find it highly relatable.
With such experimentations, the Paradocs program feels more like a genre classification than a unification of a theme or movement. In many ways, that can be attributed to audience expectations, especially given the wide and mainstream appeal of the IDFA, one of the largest in Europe. Nonetheless, it helps identify experimental work for those inclined to seek it out.
The 2019 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam took place November 20 through December 1.